Arlington, Va. — Air Force legend, space pioneer and Guinness Book of World Records record holder, retired Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Stafford held a question and answer session at the Pentagon, Jan. 29.
Stafford spoke before an audience of Airmen, coalition partners and industry leaders about his contributions to both the Air Force and NASA.
In the 1950s, Stafford commissioned in the Air Force, flying the F-86 Sabre prior to becoming a test pilot.
“I’ll never regret my decision to go into the Air Force,” Stafford said. “I’ve always wanted to fly higher and faster…honestly, I wanted to fly anything that I could get my hands on.”
When President John F. Kennedy announced his goal of sending an American to the moon in 1961, Stafford found his calling.
“Now that, I thought, would be higher and faster,” he said.
In 1962, NASA selected him among the second group of astronauts to participate in projects Gemini and Apollo. He was selected to become an astronaut in 1962, and flew aboard Gemini 6A and Gemini 9. In 1969, Stafford was the commander of Apollo 10, the second manned mission to orbit the moon and the first to fly a Lunar Module in lunar orbit, descending to an altitude of nine miles.
In total, NASA flew 10 Gemini missions in 20 months and five Apollo missions in nine months. To date, the retired general holds the world record for the highest reentry of speed of any manned space flight. During Apollo X, he assisted in formulating the sequence of missions leading to the first lunar-landing mission, and demonstrated and implemented the theory of a pilot manually flying the Saturn booster into orbit and the translunar-injection maneuver.
For generations, the contributions of Airmen in space have enabled the nation’s success in the domain. Stafford is still an Air Force and space advocate, and his hopes for the successful future of both are boundless.
“I want this to be the best Air Force in the world, to stay ahead and not have the budget go up and down,” Stafford said. “We need to be able to do things where they don’t take so long in development…there’s too much to be lost.”